Contribution of Gandhian Ideas in Responding to the Survival Crisis

global warming earth

          The concept of survival crisis refers to the emergence of life-threatening conditions on our planet due to factors like accumulation of weapons of mass destruction and a range of very serious environmental problems led by but not confined to climate change. This is the most serious problem on earth today, but the recognition of this by more and more senior scientists has not yet led to the necessary mobilization to check this crisis in time.

One main reason of this failure is that the prevailing value systems in the present-day world are not conducive to resolving the survival crisis. If the existing value systems do not become favorable to resolving the crisis in time, the search for immediate technical-fix solutions in the form of highly dubious huge geo-engineering changes may be pushed by authoritarian regimes with their own narrow agenda. Our effort with the greatest sense of urgency should be to find solutions for the many-sided survival crisis within the framework of democracy, peace and justice.

To give just one example, if the desire of ever-increasing consumption, including wasteful and harmful consumption continues to remain unchecked, then despite technological innovations in the area of replacing fossil fuels success in reducing overall GHG emissions can elude us, or else limited success in this can be accompanied by increasing problems in other areas.

On the other hand, if such technological solutions are accompanied by willingness for overall very significant reduction in consumerism, luxury consumption and wasteful consumption then along with very significant reduction in GHG emissions several other aspects of environment protection can be achieved at the same time, along with other significant benefits such as improved health and reduced mortality rates.

In particular the biggest scope may be for reducing production and use of small and big arms, including  weapons of mass destruction. If the overall value systems in world strongly favour peace and are against all forms of violence, then it may be possible to reduce all arms and ammunition production and use by about 80 to 90 per cent.

There is clearly a strong need for spreading values of peace and non-violence directly. In addition, however, the efforts for reducing consumerism and greed can also create conducive conditions for peace and non-violence. As greed decreases, so does the inclination at all levels to snatch the share of others. This leads to a much lesser inclination for violence, and provides much more favourable conditions for spread of values of peace and avoiding use of force.

Widespread conditions of peace were always needed, but these will be increasingly needed all over the world to resolve survival issues and to secure international cooperation for this.

In brief, then, there is clearly a need for efforts and campaigns which create in society a base of values which are favorable for resolving the survival crisis. Values of frugality and simplicity and curbing endless consumerism on the one hand and values of peace and non-violence are very important and essential components of this value system that we need. These two components are also closely inter-related.

Both of these components of value systems were emphasised repeatedly by Mahatma Gandhi. These are so closely identified with him and rightly so, that anyone being emphatic about these two aspects is often referred to as Gandhian in India.

Mahatma Gandhi was a most remarkable man of many-sided accomplishments but is best known for his life-long resistance to injustice using an approach of complete and uncompromising non-violence. This inspired numerous  other struggles including many  small and big  social and environmental movements in post-independence India. Gandhiji’s example also inspired many important non-violent struggles outside India, including those led by Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

This legacy of Mahatma Gandhi will be extremely useful in future for people’s movements to influence governments and institutions to make the changes which are necessary for resolving the survival issues in time. The kind of moral and ethical force which Mahatma Gandhi could bring to these non-violent movements will be increasingly needed by these movements.

The overall emphasis on non-violence in all aspects of life and as a way of life  which Gandhiji emphasised can be very valuable for creating the base of a peaceful world. Widespread conditions of peace are of course highly desirable in themselves, but in addition will be increasingly needed to meet the challenges of various survival issues.

In a world inspired by the principles of non-violence and peace at all levels, the chances of reducing arms and ammunition to a significant extent and for the success of disarmament agreements at various levels will be much higher.

Gandhiji placed a strong emphasis on voluntary limitation of consumption by people by basing it on need rather than greed. This reduces greatly the chances of conflict and improving the prospects of peace because there is less likelihood of snatching the resources of others. Gandhiji has become a symbol of simple and frugal life and yet could get the long-term following of millions. Given the trends of present day populist politics, this is a lesson that things can be done differently.

At a time of increasing trends of urbanisation and centralisation, Gandhiji placed increasing emphasis on decentralised rural pattern of life. He emphasised the creation of self-reliant rural communities. These communities should be very creative in terms of making the best possible use of local resources and skills for meeting as many needs of daily life as possible. The carbon costs of transporting food and daily need goods would be very low. It is in these patterns of life that we’ve the most scope for community action for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in many ways. He also spoke against tendencies of over- mechanisation, which often involve higher GHG emissions, and a greater scope for human creativity and skills.

Gandhiji’s experiments with community living may be increasingly relevant in new contexts which bring out how basic needs of all people can be met in healthy and harmonious ways on the basis of sustainable livelihoods , reducing the chances of all conflicts while keeping GHG emissions at extremely low levels.

The great need of today is for integrating the agenda of justice with agenda of environment protection and here again  Gandhiji’s ideas are very helpful as he placed the needs of the poorest people above everything else. His concept to trusteeship is also significant in this context.

:       As the world grapples with the increasingly difficult task of finding time-bound solutions to various aspects of the survival crisis in the near future it will no doubt look out with an increasingly sense of urgency for inspiring figures in human history whose ideas and work can be useful and inspiring for meeting this challenge. In this context that is no doubt that there will be an increasing need and scope to learn from the work and ideas of Mahatma Gandhi and their relevance for the 21st century will continue to grow more and more.

Hence there is a clear need to examine various concepts, ideas and work-experiences of Gandhiji with the in the more contemporary context of learning and inspiration for resolving most urgent issues, particularly those relating to various aspects of the survival crisis.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine ( Gandhian ideas for our times) and Protecting Earth for Children.



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